With the World Series taking centre stage in the world of sports right now, it seemed fitting that I should delve into what remains the best non-video game, baseball simulation out there.
Just for the record, there are literally dozens of games which have come out over the years trying to catch the magic of baseball. Some are pure board games, others strictly cards, and still others rely on miniatures, or the rolling of unique dice. None come close to the simplicity of play, and the depth of strategy than Strat-o-Matic Baseball does.
Hal Richman created the game more than three decades ago, with the first edition being produced in 1962.
Since its initial release the game has become widely known and enjoyed, gaining such popularity that it is exhibited in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. That pretty much tells you right there that the game is highly respected in terms of being true to the real game.
So what makes Strato so good? It's simple, the two-player game puts each participant into the role of manager of his given team.
As manager of a team the player is allowed to get into the actual thinking behind the myriad of moves a manager makes in each and every game. He controls the batting order, the choice of a starting pitcher, and within game strategies, such as whether to hit and run, or whether to attempt a steal. They can also issue intentional walks, have batters bunt, and position infielders according to who is batting.
The depth of options is what makes the game such a true-to-life baseball experience.
And, the decisions are made most often simply by stating what is happening to the opponent, such as “I'm holding the runner on” or “I'm going to attempt a suicide squeeze.”
Attention then turns to the classic battle of baseball, that of pitcher versus hitter. Each baseball player has a unique card created with statistical probabilities so they realistically reproduce the real-life performance of each player for the season represented. Therein lies another of the great strengths of Strato. The cards are created from the year-to-year statistics of a given major league player. As a result you can choose to manage the Toronto Blue Jays from their World Series season, or simply go with the current year edition of your favourite team.
New cards are released annually, and over the years vintage sets with cards for teams and players from earlier eras have also been released.
With the stat cards in hand a player rolls two six-sided dice and consults the card results. Get a number on the pitching card of someone like Roy Halladay and it's like an out. But if the dice takes you to the batter's card and it's Manny Ramirez, and it might well be a home run.
Of course the fun is that the cards do not represent just team superstars, but full rosters, so you can manage with a sub in the line up in the event a starter is injured, and it can happen.
Simple to follow charts round out the game allowing for the probability of injury, making it to first on a dropped third strike and other baseball quirks.
Strato plays smoothly, and quickly, so you can usually get in a nine inning game in an hour, then switch up the starting pitcher, adjust the line ups and go at it again.
The game perfectly mimics what occurs in a real game, and is an ideal simulation of what decisions a manager must make. Mix in true-to-life statistics for players we all love, and Strat-o-Matic is a grand slam home run.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 29, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada